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Juan Nepomuceno Cortina

Many of the figures that Anglos regarded as bandits were viewed quite differently by Mexican Americans. They were viewed as rebels who were defending Mexicans against Anglo prejudice, intolerance, and violence. One popular corrido told the story of Juan Nepomuceno Cortina, a Robin Hood-like figure defended Mexican Americans in Texas against discrimination and violent intimidation.

Juan Cortina

Ese general Cortinas
es libre y muy soberano,
han subido sus honores
porque salvó a un mexicano

Los americanos hacían huelga
borracheras en las cantinas,
de gusto que había muerto
ese general Cortinas.

That famed General Cortinas
is quite sovereign and free,
the honor due him is greater
for he saved a Mexican's life.

The Americans made merry
they get drunk in the saloons,
out of joy over the death
of the famed General Cortinas.

Source: Américo Paredes, A Texas-Mexican Cancionero, 48

The real-life Juan Nepomuceno Cortina (1824–1892) was born south of the Rio Grande River to an established family and fought for Mexico in its war with the United States. In 1859, he saw a marshal in Brownsville in southern Texas beating a Mexican farmhand. Cortina ordered the marshal to stop and, when he refused, shot him in the shoulder. Then, Cortina proclaimed a Republic of the Rio Grande and raised the Mexican flag. The Texas Rangers and the U.S. Army eventually forced him to retreat into Mexico. But he continued to conduct raids across the Mexican-Texas border until Mexico, under intense U.S. pressure, imprisoned him in 1876.

This a proclamation that Cortina issued in 1859:

The Mexicans who inhabit this wide region, some because they were born therein, others because since the treaty [of] Guadalupe Hidalgo, they have been attracted to its soil . . . and the advantages of wise government. . . .

Mexicans! When the State of Texas began to receive the new organization [government after it entered the Union] . . . flocks of vampires, in the guise of men, came and scattered themselves in the settlements, without any capital, except the corrupt heart and the most perverse intentions. . . . Many of you have been robbed of your property, incarcerated, chased, murdered, and hunted like wild beasts, because your labor was fruitful, and because your industry excited the vile avarice which led them. A voice infernal said, from the bottom of their soul, “kill them; the greater will be our gain!” . . .

Mexicans! Is there no remedy for you? Inviolable laws, yet useless, serve, it is true, certain judges and hypocritical authorities, cemented in evil and injustice, to do whatever suits them. . . . The wicked way in which many of you have been oftentimes involved in persecution . . . is well known; these crimes being hid from society under the shadow of a horrid night, those implacable people with the haughty spirit which suggests impunity for a life of criminality. . . .

Mexicans! . . . To me is entrusted the work of breaking the chains of your slavery, and that the Lord will enable me, with powerful arm, to fight against our enemies, in compliance with the requirements of that Sovereign Majesty, who, from this day forward, will hold us under His protection. On my part, I am ready to offer myself as a sacrifice for your happiness. . . .

Source: Juan Nepomuceno Cortina, “Proclamation to the Mexican Americans of South Texas,” 36 Congress, 1 Session, House Executive Document No. 52: “Difficulties on Southwestern Frontier,” pages 79–82.

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